The Freedom Riders were approximately 400 black and white Americans who (at great personal risk) traveled on buses through the Deep South in violation of Jim Crow segregation laws, for six months starting May 4, 1961. Along the way, they were met with violence and hatred. Eventually the country woke up to the injustice of these laws. On September 22, 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued a federal order to end segregation in bus and train stations.
Created as a student portal for the PBS film Freedom Riders (see site review below), Facing History offers a downloadable student guide titled Democracy in Action, a gallery of film excerpts, and a short intro to the film. "Says filmmaker Stanley Nelson, 'The lesson of the Freedom Rides is that great change can come from a few small steps taken by courageous people. And that sometimes to do any great thing, it's important that we step out alone.'"
1961, David Fankhauser was a nineteen-year-old chemistry major at Central State College in Wilberforce, OH. On May 24, 1961, after a haircut and a shave, he flew to Montgomery, AL to join the Freedom Riders. Today, Fankhauser is a professor of Biology and Chemistry at University of Cincinnati. Visit his site to read his first person account of his experiences on the ride including his arrest in Jackson, MS, and the time he spent in the Maximum Security Unit of the Parchman State Penitentiary.
"How Far Would You Go?" is an interactive lesson that takes you step-by-step on a virtual Freedom Ride. "Your goal is to integrate the stations and terminals throughout the South, although you know you will face major resistance ahead." For example, after being attacked by an angry mob in the Rock Hill Greyhound station, will you continue the journey, or take the next bus home?
Coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the bus rides, the PBS film Freedom Riders premiers on May 16, 2011. The film tells the "inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever." Visit for short bios of the "Players" which include the Freedom Riders, civic rights leaders, and key government figures and a timeline of important events. "Explore the Issues" explains Jim Crow laws, discusses the role of the Cold War, and why this particular nonviolent dissent was so effective.
"Jim Crow was not a person, yet affected the lives of millions of people. Named after a popular 19th-century minstrel song that stereotyped African Americans, 'Jim Crow' came to personify the system of government-sanctioned racial oppression and segregation in the United States." The story of the "century of segregation" begins in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation. This companion website to the PBS four-part television series (of the same name) does not cover the Freedom Riders themselves, but rather provides excellent background to the times leading up to the Sixties.